Before me stood an exuberant south African woman crowned with a glorious head of jet-black hair and an enchanting set of curious eyes. Little did I know that hiding behind the timestamped pandemic mask lives a bold and contagious smile. With prudence, we remove our masks to properly meet. This woman’s smile was like a blazing fire burning bright. Nothing could dim her shine. Eagerly, she introduces herself to me as, ‘Zee’.
In the winter of 2022, I had the privilege of meeting ‘Zee’ at a place called Orchid Island Beach and Golf Club, located in Orchid Island, Florida. Upon making her acquaintance I knew I had met someone special. Her intensity reminded me of the wild spirit that lives inside of us and guides us to our truth. Nellie Mpele, who now goes by ‘Zee’, is an inspiration and a trail blazer for every kind of women.
It is rare in life that we meet people who subjugate such a strong curiosity that nothing short of an interview will satisfy. Certain individuals are simply marked with a special calling or to make a specific journey to bring forth goodness. Overtaken by my unusual wonder, I ferociously sought to understand the magic that fills this person and makes her intoxicatingly interesting. The zeal she carries is so contagious that you can’t resist a joyful leap in your heart. I believe a blazing fire of purpose burns inside of Zee. A fire so strong, it must be shared to enrich the wild spirit in each one of us.
With a south African accent, she begins. “I am ‘Zee’ and I am here to tell you, your life is what you make it. If you are willing to work hard and make the correct sacrifices, you can be anything you want to be. Stay determined, apply yourself, and go make it happen. No one can push you; you have to do it for yourself,” She shares.
With tears of desperation streaming down her face, ‘Zee’ trembles and says “I am here and I matter. I want that little girl sitting in a hot shack in south Africa with no comforts to know, that you can come through your difficulties. I know you feel stuck and are convinced this is your life, but you must believe you can make it better. Break the cycle of poverty, abuse, and overcome difficult circumstances. Be the first in your family to graduate university and change the future for yourself and your children.”
Nellie Mpele was born in a poverty-stricken community in Johannesburg, South Africa. Since she was a little girl, she has dreamed of America and fondly expresses her love for the glamorous ‘Hollywood’ life-style. Most importantly, she is attracted to the freedom of choice offered in the United States. “I wasn’t living the life I wanted to live in south Africa.” She shares. “I want to be different and to break the cycle. We have little education or opportunity in my homeland. Culture and religion dictate the life women are going to experience. I am strong and I want to use my voice and share my opinions. It hasn’t been easy.” she expresses, “I lost my father when I was 15 and since then continue to work and provide for 6 people in my family, including my son.”
At the age of 21, Nellie decided to put herself through university and was the first person in her family to graduate. She earned her credentials in Hospitality Management and her future began to look brighter and offer more hope. She met a gentleman and soon gave birth to an amazing little boy she calls “Q”, short for Qiniso. Despite her efforts to break the cultural cycles of her impoverished homeland, she soon found herself to be a single mother surviving in an abusive relationship. Her light grew dim and she began to fall back into the pattern she fought so hard to break. “I was suffocating.” Zee shares.
Overwhelmed by her situation and desperate for change, she decided to put her hospitality skills to the test and applied for a position through Patrina Group International to work in the United States. PGI is a staffing company in the hospitality industry that provides a cultural employment exchange. Nellie knew if she stayed at home in south Africa her family would have nothing. She shares “My driving force is my 6-year-old son and I have a dream to send him to (MIT) Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It’s important that I show “Q” what strong looks like.” Nellie was approved and hired to take the job in America. Realizing her dreams is exhilarating, but also electrifyingly scary. Under difficult circumstances, she needed to make hard and important decisions that would alter the course of life for her entire family.
Zee left everything she knew and everyone she holds dear to pursue a better life for herself and her son. With longing in her face, she gives honor to her mother, Buyisiwe and her Auntie, Busisiwe for the love and support they give. Sadness grows on her face as she thinks of her son “Q” and how much she misses him. But quickly grows with delight at the prospect of seeing him again soon. When Nellie left south Africa, her son was just four years old. When she sees him again in the summer of 2022, ‘Q’ will have turned six.
Do we create our luck? Absolutely. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Nellie Mpele arrived in America in 2019. To commemorate her rebirth into freedom Nellie Mpele named herself Zee. She is the first person in her family to leave South Africa.
Pursue your own freedom and nurture your will. Cultivate a spirit of independence and rise. Like so many immigrants before her, Zee left her family behind to pursue her truth and build a better life. This is not the last you will hear of Zee because she shares “I have come too far to stop now.” I intend on following her life and sharing it with those whom need a reminder of strength.
Carly Meyer Bentley © 2021, 2022 The Freckled Strawberry, Inc.
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